2008-05-01 / Front Page

Producers Lining Up To Film in Michigan, With Incentives

Hosting Film Crews Will Bring Jobs, Cash, Allen Says
By Paul Gingras

About 100 movie producers have already inquired about making films in Michigan this year, following the development of a package of tax breaks that makes the state the most financially-friendly place in the country to produce films, commercials, and cartoons, State Senator Jason Allen said. In comparison, 10 producers asked to make movies here last year. Mr. Allen's Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee wants to draw movie makers here to bring cash and jobs into Michigan by offering a 40% tax credit to the industry. While filming, crews will spend their money in Michigan communities, Mr. Allen said, and may hire soon-to-be-trained Michigan production assistants. The incentives were approved in March.

The incentive package was a major draw for Duly Noted of Los Angeles, a company that strongly considered St. Helena Island in the Straits of Mackinac, and other Michigan sites, for a movie called "Lighthouse," said Effie Brown, the company's owner and producer.

"That, and we needed a lighthouse, and you have more coastline than any other state," she told The St. Ignace News.

From war movies to Christian films, a variety of scripts are proposed for Michigan locations, however, the package was deliberately designed to exclude breaks for Xrated movies, Mr. Allen said. Tax credits, tax incentives, loan programs, and job-training expense credits permit producers to work more cheaply in Michigan, encouraging companies to take advantage of the state's landscapes.

Michigan's varied landscape gives it an advantage over other states with similar incentive packages, he said. Essentially, Michigan

has it all.

The state has urban and rural sites, inland waterways, wilderness areas, and the landscapes of the Great Lakes, all of which can be filmed in four distinct seasons.

The package, approved by Governor Jennifer Granholm three weeks ago

is modeled after similar measures in New Mexico, Connecticut, and Canada, which have successfully drawn movie and digital media producers, Mr. Allen told The St. Ignace News. Incentive plans enabled New Mexico and Connecticut to move from virtually no movie production to making millions almost instantly.

One result in New Mexico has been construction of an expensive sound stage for production, however, Michigan already has many more venues than its southwestern competitor.

In areas where productions have been made, local economies have received significant economic boosts, he said.

"The goal is to create jobs. Every place I go, people need to get back to work. Michigan cannot be solely dependent on tourism, manufacturing, and agriculture," Mr. Allen said.

In Grand Rapids, "The Fifth Mafia," a gangster drama starring Joe Mantegna, will be made by Oregon-based Philm Entertainment in June. Hotel bookings for the cast and crew alone will pump about $600,000 into the city, said State Representative Michael Sak.

"The buzz about Michigan is growing in Hollywood, and this is only the beginning of creating more jobs for our residents and bringing more income into our communities immediately," he said.

Economic boosts from the industry are not unheard of in the Straits of Mackinac area.

Producers of films like "Escanaba in da Moonlight" and "Somewhere in Time," both northern Michigan movies, spent money in local communities on lodging, food, and supplies. Now, the state government hopes for much more of the same, Mr. Allen said.

In the 1950s and 60s, Michigan was the second most popular state in the country for making commercials, owing to having industrial facilities like those owned by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler.

A 40% tax credit included in the incentive package means companies are refunded 40¢ on the dollar, making it much easier for car companies, for example, already located in Michigan, to make their commercials at home, Mr. Allen said.

Ms. Brown of Duly Noted is anxious to see how the so-far untried incentive package works out for filmmakers. A fast rate of return is important to her company, she told The St. Ignace News.

Key to the package is easy access to state properties. The Straits of Mackinac area is an example, as is the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Center in Mid- Michigan, an excellent location for military movies, Mr. Allen said.

The industry is also likely to be drawn to Michigan instead of Europe because of the lower value of the U.S. dollar.

Toronto's development into a movie-making hub was the result of the film industry taking advantage of the relatively low value of Canadian currency in comparison to other Western countries. Rural areas of Canada have been favored for the same reason. Now, Mr. Allen said, Michigan can take advantage of a similar situation.

In addition to boosting existing businesses, training for production assistants is part of the package, creating new jobs in the state.

Governor Granholm pushed the film plan in her State of the State Address. Michigan actor Jeff Daniels, who starred in "Escanaba in da Moonlight," pushed the plan also, in testimony before the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, and the House Commerce Committee.

As the bill moved through the committee process, inquiries from film companies increased rapidly. Once passed, there was a deluge of requests, Mr. Allen said.

The state has moved the responsibility for handling production inquiries from the Department of History, Arts and Libraries to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The corporation will serve as a production office, Mr. Allen said. Media makers will call there first.

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